Tag Archives: christmas

Mince pies for Christmas

Mince pies

Clearly, I’m interested in traditional feast day foods on this blog. Many, if not most, of our traditional feast day activities have been lost here in Britain. This is due to various factors, notably the 19th century industrial revolution that shifted the population from rural labour to urban industry; then the privations of two world wars and dependence on imported food; then the ensuing embracing of industrialised food production.

Christmassy flavours
When I made the Cattern cakes in November, a friend mentioned that they tasted “Christmassy”. This is interesting, as it demonstrates how the only strong legacy of our traditional feast day foods is at Christmas. It might be grotesquely commercialised, and shifted forward from the Twelve Days (25 December to Epiphany Eve, 5 January) into late November and Advent, but for many it still involves the consumption of traditional foods: mince pies, a heavy fruit cake and plum pudding. All of which feature dried fruits and spices.

We take them for granted now, as jars of dozens of types of spices are readily available from any supermarket, but in antiquity and the Middle Ages they were enormously expensive. L ater, in the age of European empires, their trade fuelled many  economies, notably imperial Dutch and British*. They really were only ingredients for special days, or for the wealthy, until fairly recently.

While spiced (cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger etc), fruity flavours were once more associated with various celebrations through the year, now we just think of them as “Christmassy”.

Mince pies

Anyway, that’s a thought for this post. Mostly, I realised that while I have various multinational feast food recipes here, I don’t have any basic British Christmas ones. That’s partly because I don’t like Christmas cake and plum pudding. I didn’t like mince pies growing up either, but then I discovered a simple recipe for mincemeat and gave them a whirl. They were good. Making your own is so much better. I know Christmas can be stressful for many but this recipe involves just a fruity preserve and some pastry – nothing too complex, and both can be made ahead of time. The mincemeat will sit in a jar, the pastry can be frozen.

Sweet meat
Oh, and many wonder why the filling – sweet, fruity – is called “mincemeat”. Well, in the Middle Ages, puddings and pies would often involve fillings that mixed what we’d considering today as sweet and savoury, notably meat, spices and sugar. I’ve written previously about the term “pudding” – which can still refer to sweet or savoury items in British English. The precursor of Christmas pudding (aka plum pudding), plum pottage, featured meat along with the dried fruit and spices. The legacy of this in mince pie fillings is suet – traditionally a fat from around the kidneys of beef cattle, or mutton (sheep older than two years).

I do tend to use vegetarian suet substitute, partly from force of habit as an ex-veggie, but also because it’s easier at parties when many guests may be too. But it is still a conundrum, as vegetarian suet used to be hydrogenated fat, since deemed a nutritional nightmare, and is now mostly palm oil, an environmental nightmare. So your call on the lesser of two evils.

The mincemeat recipe here was originally from Delia Smith, the pastry originally from Linda Collister.

First make the mincemeat, ideally in October or November – when you can get some fresh homegrown cooking apples. You will need a couple of medium sized jars, washed and rinsed thoroughly. I then tend to put them in a low oven when I’m ready to bottle, to dry them and sterilise.

Fill the pies and top with stars

225g Bramley apples, cored and chopped small (no need to peel them)
110g shredded suet
175g raisins
110g sultanas
110g currants
[total 385g of these]
110g whole mixed candied peel, finely chopped
175g soft dark brown sugar
grated zest and juice 1 orange
grated zest and juice 1 lemon
25g whole almonds, cut into slivers, or flaked almonds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
3 tbsp brandy

1. Combine all the ingredients, except for the brandy, in a large mixing bowl.
2. Mix thoroughly.
3. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave in a cool place overnight or for 12 hours, so the flavours have a chance to mingle and develop.
4. Preheat oven 120°C.
5. Cover the bowl loosely with foil and place it in the oven for 3 hours. It’ll look fatty. Don’t worry, this is right. As it cools, stir it from time to time.
6. When the mincemeat is cold, stir well again, adding the brandy.
7. Bottle in sterilised jars.

It’ll keep for months, even years. I had a jar for two years once and it was fine, indeed it was probably better as it gives time for the flavours to mature.

Pinning out for mince pies

Now, the pastry.

Readers of this blog will know I love ground almonds as an ingredient for cakes. They’re a great addition to sweet shortcrusts too. My mother has just been reminiscing about the mince pies made by her mother, my Granny Buckley, and how “Ground almonds in the pastry was her trick.” So such tastes must run in the family.

This recipe calls for one egg yolk but I’ve also done it with whole egg, and then just used less water to bind. Both are fine.

200g plain flour
30g ground almonds
30g caster sugar
Pinch salt
100g butter
1 egg yolk
2-5 tbsp cold water

1. Sieve flour into bowl.
2. Dice butter and rub in. Alternatively, combine in a food processor.
3. Add ground almonds, pinch salt and sugar.
4. Lightly beat the egg then add to the dry mix.
5. Bring together dough adding enough water to create a soft but not too wet dough.
6. Form ball and wrap in plastic. Rest in fridge for half an hour or freeze.
7. Roll out to about 4mm and cut discs to line the dips in a pie tray.
8. Fill each with some mincemeat.
9. Add lids – either whole discs or star shapes. The latter is easier (no crimping required), and cute to boot.
10. Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 200C, until nicely browned.
11. Dust with icing sugar before serving.

Freshly baked mince pies

If mince pies are a big part of your Christmas, I’d heartily encourage you to make your own. I don’t claim mine are the best mince pies, and they’re certainly not the neatest or most aesthetically pleasing – like everything I make these days, they’re slightly rushed as I’m either waiting for kids to wake from their afternoon naps or I’m knackered at the end of the day. But they’re easy to make and really, honestly, so much better than any of the industrial crap from the supermarkets.

 

* See this blog post by botanist Stephen Forbes for more about the origins and history of spices.

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Galette des rois and celebrating the end of Christmas with Epiphany

Crowned galette des rois

I love the Christmas season, but one thing I loathe about its modern British incarnation is how it begins in the middle of October. People start stressing, hurry to put up their trees at the start of December, then run out of steam by about Boxing Day, with some even taking down their decorations. Yet Boxing Day, the 26th, is only the Second Day of Christmas.1

We all know the song that starts “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…” but miss the significance. Formerly, Christmas was celebrated from Christmas Eve and Christmas Day itself, when the feasting started and was sustained until Twelfth Night, 5 January, the eve of Epiphany. This ending of the season on 6 January is still celebrated in some cultures with king cakes, or kings cake. The kings in question? Why that would be the Three Kings, the Magi.

This is all perhaps a bit confusing for those who grew up with formalised Nativity plays and scenes that pack in the whole cast of characters – holy family, kings, shepherds, sheep, oxen, camels – for the actual birth of Christ. But alternative names for Epiphany are Three Kings Day, or simply the Day of the Kings, as it’s when they arrive at the famed Bethlehem farm outbuilding and give their gifts. Indeed, some cultures still do their main gift-giving on Epiphany. It’s an important Christian feast day, hence the feast foods: the king cakes.

The end of Christmas
Not only are variations on king cakes served on Epiphany, they can be served repeatedly through Carnival season right up until Lent, with the New Orleans version, for example, being essential for Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday.

The northern French king cake – galette des rois – isn’t the richest concoction, but I still love how this tradition is one in the eye for all the hackneyed dogma that gets trotted out with the British New Year celebrations about how you have to stop indulging and embrace self-denial. Indeed, one of the things I loved during our two years living in Rome was how Carnevale brought with it uniquely indulgent seasonal sweets soon after New Year.

Before our time in Italy, the biggest connection to another European country and culture in our household came with Fran’s Francophilia. She’d made a connection with France when she was young, studied French, and spent several years living in Brittany and Paris when she was in her late teens and twenties. It was Fran who first told me about the galette des rois five years ago.

While southern French, parts of the US South and some Spanish and Latin cultures do a more cake-like king cake made with enriched dough, and decorated with coloured icings and candied fruits2, the northern French galette des rois is a more modest concoction. It’s a sweet pie, made with puff pastry (pâtes feuilletées) and filled with almond paste, frangipane; essentially a pithivier.

Slice

Cake, round and flat
What is a galette? Well, it’s defined as an “espèce de gâteau rond et plat” – “a type of cake, round and flat”. From what we can work out, it’s the diminutive of gale, again meaning a round, flat cake but also used to describe a small round stone, worn flat by water3. Alan Davidson says, “the word being derived from galet, a pebble perfect for skipping”. The word is perhaps best known from galettes brettonne, Breton galettes – pancakes made with buckwheat flour found in that region of northwest France. It also refers to certain types of biscuits and cookies, also round and flat.

Charming
Anyway, as well as being a modest treat, the fun thing about galette des rois is the inclusion of a fève – literally a dried bean (like the Italian word fava, broad bean). This is hidden in the frangipane mixture and bestows good luck on the person who finds it in their portion. As I noted in my earlier blog about galette des rois, this is not unlike the old British tradition of hiding a coin in Christmas pudding, and indeed lots of cultures have festive baked goods that include a charm of some form: it’s common to other king cakes, the Bulgarian banitsa contains a kusmeti charm, etc.

The modern form of the fève is a small ceramic or plastic figure of the baby Jesus. Last time I made one, I debated using a Monopoly piece but opted instead for a marble. This time, however, I decided to use something edible, so chose half a walnut. No danger of choking! The French tradition is for the youngest child of the gathering to sit under the table and call our names as the slices are served, for an added layer of chance. Whoever wins the fève gets to wear the paper crown you place on top of the galette des rois when you serve it and be the family king or queen for the rest of the day. Or nominate someone else if they’re not feeling the lure of such absolute authority.

The inclusion of a bean is likely a pre-Christian Roman tradition, when for one day in winter slaves and masters would eat together, and even the slave could be king of the feast, or at least the magister bibendum, “master of the drinks” or toastmaster. As Davidson points out, when the pagan Roman empire was Christianised, it made sense to declare 25 December Christ’s birthday, “co-opting these immensely popular holidays” and midwinter ceremonies, notably Saturnalia.

Recipe
This time round I also made my own puff pastry, using a recipe from the new 2011 translation of Ginette Mathiot’s The Art of French Baking (originally Je Sai Faire La Patisserie, “I Know How to Make Pastries”, 1932). It was okay, not great. Partly it didn’t puff well as I messed up the edge of the galette; that’s a tricky bit, as you need to seal it well to contain the frangipane, but not to the point of preventing any rising and puffing of the pastry. Anyway, most people will probably prefer to just use bought puff pastry – if so, make sure it’s all-butter as the richness and flavour is essential.

400-500g all butter puff pastry

Frangipane filling:
85g ground almonds
85g caster sugar
Pinch salt
85g unsalted butter, softened butter
2 medium eggs, beaten (that is, about 100g of beaten egg)
A dash of rum (optional)
One fève charm (optional)

Wash:
1 egg yolk
1 tsp milk

1. First make the frangipane. Combine the almonds, sugar and pinch of salt.

Add butter
2. Add the softened butter and squash it in, then cream it in fully. Keep creaming until the mixture becomes a paler colour.

Cream
3. Add the beaten egg, a little at a time, and the rum (if using) and beat to combine. Cover and put in the fridge while you prepare the pastry.

Beat till pale
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
5. Roll out the pastry then, using something round that fits your baking sheet, cut two discs. Mine were 230mm (9 inches) in diameter.

Cut out discs
6. Put both circles on the baking sheet with another piece of parchment in between, cover with plastic to stop them drying out and rest (them, not you) in the fridge.
7. Whisk together the egg yolk and milk for the wash.
8. Take the pastry and filling out of the fridge again and separate the discs.
9. Put the almond filling in the middle of the bottom piece of pastry, leaving about 25mm all the way around the edge.

Add filling
10. Put a fève in the mix, making sure no one sees where it’s hidden.
11. Brush the exposed edge of pastry with water, put the other disc of pastry on the top then seal together tightly.
12. You can chill again now, leaving it until ready, even overnight. Again, cover or put in a plastic bag to stop it drying out.
13. Preheat the oven to 200C.
14. Brush the glaze all over the top.

Glaze and incise top
15. With a sharp paring knife, cut a pattern on the top. Traditionally, this involves diagonal lines or curving sunrays, but you can be as creative as you want. Stab a few holes too, to allow steam to escape. You can scallop or crimp the edge too, but see the above note.
16. Bake for about 30 minutes or until crisp and golden. (As soon as it’s out of the oven, you can also give it an extra glaze with sugar syrup.)

Baked 1
17. Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with the paper crown.

And forget about those silly New Year’s pronouncements to punish yourself for overeating over Christmas. Just moderate! So, for example, don’t eat an entire galette des rois on your own, greedily trying to win that crown. Fran got it – or half of it at least, a flaw in the plan of using a walnut – in her first slice.

Fran as the Epiphany galette des rois queen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Most count Christmas Day as the First Day of Christmas, though some start with 26th December, St Stephen’s Day, the British Boxing Day. If you follow the Julian calendar, you have to wait until 6 January to start the Twelve Days of Christmas. Thanks Alex and Nick for informing me of that with your Ukrainian Christmas celebrations on our Epiphany, yesterday.

2 Called variously gâteau des rois or royaume or reiaume, roscón de reyes or rosca de reyes, corona dels reis, tortell de reis and bolo de reis.

3 Fran also conjectures that the word relates to the Gaelic gall, which means “stranger”, but also “rock, stone” but it all gets a bit confusing when you learn the Breton language name for Breton galettes is Krampouezhenn gwinizh du.

 

Addendum

My folks visited at the weekend, and brought with them something given to them by some friends who live in Normandy, who bought it in their local patisserie – it’s a brioche des rois, another variation on the kings cake theme. None of us were sure what the red slices of candied fruit were – apple perhaps?

Brioche des rois

 

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Christmas biscotti

Christmas biscotti

So I wanted to create an all-purpose biscotti recipe, an equivalent to this eminently useful customised cookie recipe where you just make a basic dough then chuck in whatever else you feel like. The plan was to have a recipe that I could adapt to utilise some Christmas flavours, some spices, some peel – and use up some pistachios that were sitting in storage while we didn’t have a kitchen during our 12 weeks-became-24 weeks building project.

Here’s the Christmas version. I’ll post the all-purpose version when I’ve tried a few more variables.

3 cardamom pods
3 cloves
nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
250g plain flour
200g sugar (caster or granulated)
1 tsp baking powder
(30g raw cacao powder, optional – I just had some)
pinch salt
3 medium eggs, beaten (QB, see below)
100g pistachio nuts
85g candied peel

1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Line some baking sheets with parchment.
Christmas biscotti, spices

3. Prepare the spices: crack open the cardamom pods and take out the seeds then grind them up, along with the cloves. I use a mini electric grinder, but you could use a pestle and mortar (can’t find mine). Mix these spices with the cinnamon and a few grates of fresh nutmeg. Again, the spice mix is up to you really – all these spices are wonderfully evocative of mid-winter feasting to me, but if you don’t like or don’t have cardamom, for example, don’t worry.
4. Sieve together the flour, cacao powder if using, baking powder and spices and add the salt.
5. Make a dough by adding the beaten egg, a little at a time. You may not need to use it all. For example, my 3 medium eggs produced 170g of beaten egg, but I only needed 160g to make a dough that was malleable, not too dry, not too sticky. That’s QB – which is found in Italian recipes, is short for quanto basta, and means, “how much is enough”. In this case 160g was enough.

Christmas biscotti, dough
6. Add the nuts and peel and combine. Don’t knead it, it’s not bread, mix it just enough to homogenise.

Christmas biscotti, logs, unbaked
7. Form the dough into three slightly flattened logs, about 40-50mm wide, and place these on the baking sheets, sufficiently spaced for some spread.
8. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. You want the logs baked but not dried out, not still gooey. If they’re too gooey inside still, they’re hard to slice for the next stage and the second bake.

Christmas biscotti, logs, baked
9. Allow the logs to cool slightly then, with a serrated bread knife, slice, on a slight angle, into pieces about 10mm thick.
10. Return the biscuits to the baking sheets and bake again, for about 10-15 minutes. Take them out, turn them over, then bake again, to crisp up.

Christmas biscotti, sliced
11. Cool on a wire rack.

As they’re baked twice – biscotto literally means “twice baked” in Italian, from the Latin – they’ll be crisp and hard. They keep well in an airtight container and are suitable for dipping in a glass of desert wine, or a digestivo, or a hot drink if you’re being abstemious. It’s the season for abstemiousness right?

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Lebkuchen in my new kitchen

Lebkuchen

So we’re in week 22 or 23 of our 12 week building project now, with the few final jobs dragging on and on. But the good news is that we got a kitchen back in the past few weeks. We’ve now got it in pretty usable order.

It’s a fairly slow process getting used to a new kitchen: the layout, your workflow in the space, the new equipment. In this case, the only new kit we got was an oven. As a baker, this is obvious the most important thing. Especially as, suddenly, we seem to be poised on the verge of that annual blow-out that is Christmas.

Now, I love seasonal and festival specialities, and over the years I’ve enjoyed trying various international seasonal baked goods like stollen, panettone and kringle. I did the latter, a Scandinavian sweet bread, while living in Italy, and the panettone, the classic Italian sweet seasonal bread, while living in England. I’m in the process of revising my panettone recipe but in the meantime, I wanted to try another classic European Christmas baked treat – lebkuchen, the traditional German biscuit or small cake that’s related to other European sweets like British gingerbread biscuits and cakes, Danish honning hjerter (honey hearts), Polish Toruń pierniki, and various international spice and honey cakes.

As biscuits, these were considerably less of a challenge than an enriched dough when trying to get used to a new oven.*

Lebkuchen were a big part of our Christmas eating when I was younger – perhaps strangely as we’re thoroughly English. But my dad had business partners in Switzerland and Germany and the latter would send us a bag or tin of these spicy, soft German biscuits every year, possibly starting in 1979. Indeed, one large tin, decorated with seasonal scenes, is still in use by my parents as a biscuit tin 15 or so years after it was gifted to them.

Despite enjoying them over the years, I’d never tried to make them. So it was nice to see a recipe in The Guardian’s Cook section last week, from 2013 Great British Bake Off contestant and now newspaper food writer Ruby Tandoh. This was the first of Tandoh’s recipes I’d tried, if memory serves, and it worked well. I tweaked a few things though, partly as I like a tad more spice than she was suggesting, and as I’m pretty sure lebkuchen need honey in them.

I would also say the spice mix is up to you. Yes, they need ginger, but you can mix up the other spices to taste: basically you’re going for that medieval winter feast vibe, and traditionally lebkuchen can involve aniseed, allspice, cinnamon, cloves. As fresh spices are always more alive with flavour, if you have a small spice grinder or pestle and mortar, that’s great.

Here’s the original recipe on The Guardian’s site, and here’s my tweaked version:

120g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
160g plain flour
1 t baking powder
5 t ground ginger
1/2 t cinnamon
6 whole cloves cloves
2 cardamom pods (freshly ground)
1/2 t aniseeds (freshly ground)
100g ground almonds
80g soft light brown sugar
A pinch of salt
2 large egg yolks
60g runny honey

To glaze
20g water
100g icing sugar

1. Preheat your oven to 180C (fan oven)
2. Grind any fresh spices you’re using.
3. Sieve together the flour, baking powder and all the spices into a large bowl, discarding any big bits of cardamom pod etc.
4. Rub in the butter, until it resembles crumbs.
5. Add the ground almonds, sugar and salt to the flour and spice mix.
6. In a separate bowl, beat together the honey and egg yolks.

Lebkuchen 1
7. Pour the egg and honey mix into the dry mix and bring together with a fork or spatula to create a soft, moist dough.

Lebkuchen 2
8. Take lumps of the dough and roll into a ball. Ruby said “conker-sized” pieces, but as any British schoolchild of a certain age will know, conkers can seriously vary in size so I scaled mine at 30g. This resulted in 19 perfectly sized biscuits.

Lebkuchen 3
9. Squash the balls with your palms, flattening them out on lined baking sheets leaving some space between for expansion.
10. Bake for about 8 minutes then swap the trays around on the shelves so they bake evenly.
11. Bake for another 8 minutes or so – you want them nicely coloured, but not too dark. This will depend on the fierceness of your oven.

Lebkuchen 4
12. While they’re still baking, sieve the icing sugar into a small bowl then add a small dribble of water, about 20g, or 2 or 2 T. You want a runny, but not too runny, icing.
13. When the biscuits are baked, leave them on their trays and glaze by brushing on the icing “liberally”.

Lebkuchen 5
14. Leave to cool on the tray.

 

 

* A Rangemaster Professional + 110 Induction. My first impression is, sadly, that the ovens heat up slowly and are a good 10C less hot than it says on the dial. I should do a proper review at some stage as it’s not like you buy new cookers often, and it’s not like you can try before you buy.

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High tea, post-colonial-style, at Raffles, Singapore

View of Raffles
Last time we visited Singapore, we were arriving from India, barely recovered from a nasty dose of food poisoning garnered in the picturesque squalor of Kerala’s backwaters and were so relieved to be in this generally clean, orderly city with its reliable food hygiene. This time round we were coming from amiable, underpopulated New Zealand. We did frequent one food hall in Auckland for a bit of Asian food, but Singapore really is an amazing place for such affairs, known here as hawker centres.

I love hawker centres. For a few dollars and you can indulge in all sorts of Asian goodies – predominantly representing Singapore’s mix of Chinese, Malay and South Asian/Indian ethnic groups, but also Indonesian, Japanese, Thai and more.

Singapore really is an amazing food city.

Not that it’s all about the hawker centres though. The city boasts eating options in all price categories and styles. Indeed, our first morning we had breakfast in a place called Prego, which was a pizzeria by night and had walls covered in Italian sayings (such as “A tavola non si invecchia” – at the table, one doesn’t age). Elsewhere are fancy cake shops, restaurants with French or American-trained chefs, fusion places, and a gazillion other eateries tucked away in the endless malls, quaysides, hotels and science fiction developments. (Wandering around the Marina and some of the malls was like being in the sets for Logan’s Run or THX-1138, and entering the Marina Bay Sands – a trio of skyscrapers with what looks like a giant ship laid across the top – gave me a flashback to playing Halo 3 ODST.)

Then of course there’s the colonial heritage. Which of course means Raffles.

Raffles Tiffin Room

Named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826), the founder of Singapore, Raffles is the quintessential 19th century remnant of the British Empire’s endeavours in Southeast Asia. It started life as a modest harbour-side bungalow in 1887 then went on to expand into an array of white, colonnaded, neoclassical buildings that seem to cover at least an acre and, miraculously in a city of thrusting capitalistic redevelopment, managed to survive the wrecking ball purges of the 20th century.

We’d had discussions with various friends about visiting this place, but the fact that we were in a room in a modern hotel across the road, overlooking the Raffles complex, decided us that we just had to go, despite the costs. But would it be? A bar? Which bar? An evening Singapore Sling? No – it had to be high tea in the Tiffin Room.

Raffles Xmas cakes w Santa

I love afternoon tea and high tea. It’s my favourite form of party (okay, when it sprawls into the evening and some boozing that’s even better). I love to make cakes, scones and biscuits. We’ve had afternoon tea at various venues over the years, but this had to be the most storied. And certainly the most expensive. The Raffles cake stand and buffets set us back way more than the combined cost of all our other Singapore meals put together. They’d even bumped up the price about 30 per cent to celebrate Christmas. Yay.

And although the food itself wasn’t exactly the most refined – there were no fine pastries, no choux, no macaroons – it was still lovely. What you were really paying for was the venue – a beautiful high-ceilinged room – and the service – dozens of staff moving between the tables, removing your used plates to make room for another trip to the buffet, topping up your teacup so you end up consuming litres, and generally being very courteous. If slightly haphazard with their info – our first guy got his scones and mince pies mixed up, called marzipan “cookies” and flapjack “fruitcake”.

It was all good fun, though I had to restrain myself from starting to refer to the staff as “My good man” and wishing people a “Frightfully good Christmas.”

Anyway, we started with a cake rack, with white sliced bread triangular cucumber, salmon, egg etc sandwiches, crusts removed of course, mince pies (nice crusty pastry, mild mincemeat) and a white chocolate high-heeled shoe, dyed red, and filled with brandy flavoured whipped cream. Oookay. This latter didn’t seem so popular with the other diners; I felt kinda sorry for whoever laboured over them in the kitchen.

Then there were several buffets – one with dim sum, one with an array of cakes and scones, one with fruit, and even one with a variety of iced teas.

Stollen, panettone, yule log at Raffle Christmas high tea

I enjoyed being able to fill up a plate with various national Christmas cakes – panettone, stollen and chocolate yule log. Fran favoured a white chocolate, rose, guava and champagne log thing. The stollen’s label had migrated several metres to the right, somehow, to beside a bowl of cream – clotted cream! Miraculous. A scone with clotted cream on the Malay Peninsula at Christmastime.
The German marzipan-filled enriched bread even inspired me to create this Christmas-cracker-worthy joke: “Where did you buy your German Christmas cake?” “I didn’t, it’s stollen.”

Too much tea perhaps…

What a fab experience.

They even had a harpist playing ‘Greensleeves’, ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme,’ and ‘Here, There and Everywhere’.

The only real disappointment was the fact that they have a dress code – smart casual, shirts with collars etc – but don’t enforce it enough. Call me a snob, but spending all that money, and enjoying the opportunity to dress up a bit (as much as possible when one’s lived out of a backpack for two months), it was a bit shoddy to have people in jeans, T-shirts and trainers sitting nearby. Come on Raffles – standards! Standards!

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Christmas kringle

Kringle cut

Most Christmases I like to try a different type of seasonal cake. Anything but a British Christmas cake. Yuck. So in the past I’ve done stollen, and a few years ago a panettone (scroll down a bit, here). This year, despite being in Italy, I’ve made a kringle, from a recipe I found in an in-flight magazine.

The recipe is from Norwegian-raised, London-based Signe Johansen. She doesn’t give much pre-amble, but says “Kringle gets its name from the Old Norse for a ring, and is eaten across Scandinavia during the festive period.”

As with the Italian ciambella though, the name kringle seems to cover a broad variety of baked goods, ranging from things that resemble a pretzel, to various ring-shaped cakes, and even ring-shaped variants make with flaky pastry. It looks like something that’s doesn’t just vary throughout Scandinavia, but also varies extensively across the Scandinavian diaspora, notably in the US.

This version is an enriched yeasted dough and much more like stollen (especially as it also has a marzipan filling) or panettone than the strudel-like versions in the above link. It’s also made with white spelt flour (farina di farro bianco in Italian). As much as I like to eschew using too much modern wheat, I’m not sure about this and if I did it again, I might be tempted to use half-half plain and strong white flours.

Spreading the filling

Anyway, I’ve no idea how authentic it is, whether it resembles a particular kringle from a particular nation or location, or whether it’s a total mongrel. It’s just a pleasing bit of seasonal baking, with a rich dough, plenty of almonds and a delightful touch of cardamon.

So, ingredients:

Dough
300g milk (whole, full-fat)
75g butter (unsalted)
525g refined spelt flour
100g caster sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
15g fresh yeast (or 7g fast action dried yeast)
1 egg, beaten

Kringle rolling

Filling
100g raisins (soaked for 15-20 minutes then drained)
150g marzipan (she uses mandelmasse, which is another almond paste variable that. According to my Scandinavian baking consultant Tom Rönngård “marzipan has more added sugar”. So maybe just make some marzipan – which is v easy* – and reduce the sugar.)
75g almonds
50g butter (unsalted)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
caster sugar to taste

Glaze
1 egg, beaten
flaked almonds
Demerara or granulated sugar

Kringle round

Method:

1 Warm the milk and butter. Scald them, take off the heat and allow to cool.
2 Mix the flour, caster sugar, cardamom and salt together in a large bowl.
3 When the milk and butter have cooled to around 28C, crumble in the yeast.
4 Leave the milk and yeast for a few minutes, then add one beaten egg.
5 Pour the liquid into the flour and beat to combine. Beat until it starts to come together as a dough. You could use a food processor or mixer with a dough hook. She doesn’t seem to knead it at all.
6 Form the dough into a ball then leave to prove in a large, clean bowl, covered with cling film.
7 Turn around and ready your food processor.
8 To make the filling, blitz together the marzipan/mandelmasse, almonds, butter, vanilla, one more beaten egg, salt. You want a rough paste.
9 Add caster sugar to taste to the filling – 30-45g or so.
10 When the dough has doubled in size, take it out of the bowl and put on a lightly floured work surface.
11 Stretch and roll the dough out into a rectangle 60x15cm.
12 Spread the filling on the dough.
13 Starting from a long edge, roll the dough up.
14 Dampen the other long edge to seal the cylinder.
15 From the cylinder into a ring shape, pinching the ends together. (I’m not entirely sure how this works; it felt a bit bodgy to me.)
16 Preheat the oven to 200C.
17 Transfer the ring to a large baking sheet, lined with parchment.
18 Cover the dough and leave to prove again, until roughly doubled in size. She says “If it has proved enough, the indentation should stay after a gentle poke.” Which is nice.
19 When it is ready to bake, glaze with egg, and sprinkle with flaked almonds and Demerara sugar. I had some egg whites so used them. I also didn’t have any flaked almonds, so just sliced some blanched almonds. And I used granulated sugar instead or Demerara.
20 Bake for around 40 minutes, then cool on a rack.

Kringle close-up

My blasted oven has fierce bottom heat, so despite triple-traying it, I still got a slightly burnt bottom. Otherwise, it was jolly good when we had it for breakfast this morning. The recipe says serve “on the day of baking”, but with a dough that’s so rich in fats and sugar I’m sure it’ll last happily for a several days.

* Marzipan tweaked a bit to become more like mandelmasse

30g golden caster sugar
60g icing sugar, sifted
120g ground almonds
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp lemon juice

Mix the sugars and almonds.
Add the egg, lemon and vanilla.
Blend with a knife then knead briefly.
Wrap with cling film and store in a cool place.
It’ll keep fine for a few days, if not more.

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Filed under Breads, Cakes (yeasted), Recipes